12

This one pops into my head every so often and I've never found it again. It was a short story which I think I read some time in middle school so probably late 70s or 1980. I think the book was from the school library, so it might be much older. The story was in English, and I am and was then in the United States.

The story is told in first person. The protagonist tells us his name, and makes a point of saying it's like in a song. However, the song itself didn't hold any meaning for me back then, and so I don't remember it now.

The protagonist wakes one morning to discover he is... I guess the best word is "Unnoticeable." No matter what he does, no matter what the physical consequences, people will no longer notice he exists. They don't see or hear him, or even see direct results of his actions, or even feel him if he hits them.

As I recall, the story begins when he wakes in the morning, to his wife shouting at him to get ready or come to breakfast. But when he gets downstairs, she just keeps on shouting for him to come down even though he's in the room with her.

He leaves for work, thinking his wife is playing some silly game, perhaps a punishment for something she thought he did. He goes to the bus stop. When the bus arrives, people all crowd him out and he's last to get on. The driver closes the door on him, and he has to pull free. He's mad, and walks onto the bus without paying.

At work, he calls someone. Doctor, maybe? The phone works for him, but when he tries to speak to the person at the other end, they just talk like there's no-one on the line and finally hang up.

Later, I think at a hotel, or at least some building with a lobby, he steals a newspaper because the guy won't acknowledge him.

Later still, he gets on an elevator, experiencing the same problem with the operator closing the door (and now I think the tale must be pretty old. When did elevators still have operators?). He's finally had enough and punches the elevator operator. Despite drawing blood, the operator still doesn't seem to notice the protagonist, or the injury. The protagonist gets mad and hits him over and over, breaking his nose while he stands at the controls smiling.

Finally, he meets a guy who seems to be laughing at him, and goes to hit that guy, but THAT guy notices him and tosses him around the lobby, while no-one else notices all the collateral damage they're causing. At some point they talk and the new guy explains what's happened.

The story ends with the protagonist asking the reader to please, just notice him.

Hope that's enough detail. Can anyone point me this author and story?

11

I believe this is "Are You Listening?" by Harlan Ellison.

Description from Ellison's web site:

Albert Winsocki is an unobtrusive man. The most exciting thing about him is his surname. He is the sort of person who enters a room, and people ask who left. His lack of distinguishing personal attributes is matched only by his lack of concern. He has a comfortable, secure life in his own eyes - predictable and safe. He is an inert human in an interactive human world...until his life reaches it's logical conclusion, that is... Suddenly, Albert has a story to tell.

It starts:

There are several ways I wanted to start telling this: First, I was going to begin it:

I began losing my existence on a Tuesday morning. But then I thought about it and:

This is my horror story.

seemed like a better way to begin. But thinking it over (I've had a devil of a lot of time to think it over, you can believe me), I realized both of those were pretty melodramatic, and if I wanted to instill trust and faith and all that from the outset, I had just better begin the way it happened, and tell it through to now, and then make my offer, and well, let you decide for yourself.

Are you listening?

Albert tells us his story of a fate worse than death. He had not lost his life - he has lost his existence. With no meaning or substance to validate his life, he drifts outside what living people call reality, taking us with him on a hauntingly familiar, yet strange and terrible exploration of his new situation.

By searching under Google books, I also found the "punches a guy in the nose" part:

I hit him a third time, and his nose broke.

He never noticed.

He left the elevator, covered with blood, and never even flinched.

And finding another person who can see him:

"Ah-ah, buddy," the ma in the trenchcoat chastised me, wagging a lean finger in my face. "Now that isn't polite at all, is it? To his a man who can't even see you."

And even the part about the song:

"My name is Thompson, Mr.--ah--Mr. what-did-you-say-your-name-was?"

"I didn't, but it's Winsocki. Albert Winsocki. Like in the song. You remember the song, yeah?"

I also didn't recognize the song, but user14111 has helpfully provided a link to the song, apparently entitled "Buckle Down Winsocki"

  • That's it! Thank you! – Longspeak Nov 5 '16 at 4:33

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